A nurse found dead after answering a hoax call for the Duchess of Cambridge during her first pregnancy sent a desperate email to colleagues blaming herself, an inquest heard.
Jacintha Saldanha, 46, was discovered hanged in nursing accommodation days after staff were tricked into telling two Australian radio DJs about the Duchess of Cambridge’s stay at London’s King Edward VII’s Hospital in December 2012.
The Duchess was being treated for acute morning sickness at the time.
“Although they had breached protocol, we felt it was a nasty trick at a ridiculous time of the day”
An inquest in to the mother-of-two’s death heard she believed the prank at around 5.30am was a genuine call from the Queen and transferred it to the nurse looking after the Duchess, who then revealed details of her treatment.
One of the DJs who made the call, Mel Greig, voluntarily attended the inquest at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Dressed in black she sat on the opposite side of the tightly-packed court room from the family and held a pained expression throughout proceedings.
The nurse who disclosed Kate’s condition told the court that Mrs Saldanha emailed her after the prank to express her anguish at the mistake.
The message stated: “It’s all my fault. I feel very bad about this to get you involved. If there was anything I could do to mend this I would do it.”
The email went on: “I’m very upset and don’t know what to do. Things are all going in the wrong direction.”
Mrs Saldanha said she was “terribly sorry” and added: “Please blame me for this. I accept the fault was mine. I should have checked before I gave the call to you.
“I can only say sorry. Please accept my apologies.”
The nurse, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told the inquest that she believed she would be talking to the Queen because that impression was given to her by Mrs Saldanha.
She said she addressed the caller as “ma’am” and spoke about condition of the Duchess, saying she was “comfortable”.
“I started feeling nervous when the caller talked to a male voice asking about taking the corgis for a walk. This seemed inappropriate for the call,” she said.
“I had never been in this situation before. I wanted to bring it to an end quickly.”
She added: “I thought it was a prank as soon as I heard about the corgis.
The nurse then described what happened when the call ended.
“I replaced the handset and looked directly at Jacintha and said there was something wrong with the phone call, it wasn’t right.”
Mrs Saldanha’s body was found hanging on December 7, 2012 − three days after the hoax.
Dr Fiona Wilcox, Westminster Coroner, denied an application to allow Ms Greig to give evidence in court.
The DJ tweeted on the morning of the hearing: “I have made a commitment to the Saldanha family that I would answer any questions that they have, on or off the stand, and I’m here to uphold that promise.”
The hospital’s matron, Caroline Cassells, said she tried to reassure the nurse that the hospital understood it was a mistake and there had been no mention of disciplinary action.
“Although they had breached protocol, we felt it was a nasty trick at a ridiculous time of the day,” she said.
The matron added: “There was no indication that she wasn’t coping, she was seen as coping.
“As a nurse you have to be able to work under pressure and she thrived off it.”
A dedicated receptionist is now employed to take calls overnight when senior members of the Royal Family are staying at the hospital, the inquest heard.
Mrs Saldanha’s husband broke down in tears as he gave evidence in the witness stand, describing his wife as ambitious and brave.
Benedict Barboza said: “She has touched the hearts of everyone she has met.
“This is evident from numerous thank you cards she used to receive from the patients she treated as well as hundreds of condolences we received praising her professionalism.”
He told the inquest that she had never suffered from any psychological problems or tried to harm herself.
“The two presenters have each told me on a number of occasions of their distress and sadness”
The chief executive of Southern Cross Media Group, the parent company of 2Day FM which carried out the prank call, said it does not hold DJs Michael Christian or Ms Greig responsible for the broadcast.
In a statement Rhys Holleran admitted the station did not obtain consent to run the hoax call but that the segment was checked by legal staff ahead of it being aired.
He said four phone calls made to the hospital shortly after the prank were an attempt to seek permission but were ended by the recipient in seconds.
Mr Holleran said: “Southern Cross Radio takes full responsibility for the broadcast. It does not apportion blame to any of its announcers.”
He added that the company “deeply regrets” the tragedy and extended its “deepest sympathies” to the family and friends of Mrs Saldanha.
“All of our staff have been deeply affected,” he said. “The two presenters have each told me on a number of occasions of their distress and sadness.”